Neil Hoyne, What Makes Google Culture Special?

What makes Google’s culture so special that it has enabled them to have a 22% compound annual growth rate for a decade? How do they promote collaboration and keep growing even though they are already a huge company?

In part two of my conversation with Neil Hoyne, he shares insights into practices behind this amazing performance. As the Chief Measurement Strategist at Google, Neil has led more than 2,500 engagements with the world’s biggest advertisers and has generated billions of dollars in incremental revenue for these customers.

Episode Details

Show Notes

What makes Google’s culture so special that it has enabled them to have a 22% compound annual growth rate for a decade? How do they promote collaboration and keep growing even though they are already a huge company?

Hint: it’s not the volleyball courts and free food.

In part two of my conversation with Neil Hoyne, he shares insights into practices behind this amazing performance. As the Chief Measurement Strategist at Google, Neil has led more than 2,500 engagements with the world’s biggest advertisers and has generated billions of dollars in incremental revenue for these customers.

Neil says that Google’s true strength lies in the “ability of the company and its employees to work across functions with minimal friction.”

In other words, Google has created a culture of curiosity and collaboration that promotes free exchange of ideas across all departments. Google incentivizes that behavior by allowing any employee to award a cash bonus to one of their peers.

Google has a perpetual interest in scaling the business, but only in the leanest and most efficient fashion possible. For instance, when a team or department at first glance appears understaffed, instead of simply hiring more people, leadership asks, “How can we make the process more efficient, so that we don’t need more people?”

Importantly, Neil implores other companies to find the values, tools, and processes that uniquely work for them instead of simply trying to build a Google copycat. “Fit an idea, a system, a transformation, a metric to (your) company’s culture.”


Amanda Setili  (00:00:38):

My guest today is Neil ho. Neil is the chief measurement strategist at Google he’s led more than 2,500 engagements with the world’s biggest advertisers and helped them add millions of customers and generate billions in incremental revenue. His new book is “converted, the data driven way to win customers hearts.”  And I’m just really excited to welcome you, Neil.

Neil Hoyne (00:01:11):

Amanda, thank you so much for having me <laugh>

I want to ask you a few questions about Google, its culture, how you work. And I’ve, you know, learned a, I’ve worked with Google. I’ve looked at, you know, I’ve, I’ve read a lot about Google and I’ve observed it as a customer for years. I love Google products, but what, which of Google’s practices do you think are most important in enabling Google to just keep on innovating year after year?

Neil Hoyne (00:13:07):

That’s it? It’s a good question. And I’m, I’m sure in many years it’ll be the subject to many case studies. And I’ve, I’ve had the privilege of all watching the company. I think it was at about 19,000 employees when I started to now more than 200,000. And you really look at you like, well, what are the practices that have permeated externally? People see the perks, right? They see the, the volleyball courts and the free food. And they say, well, that’s what leads to Google’s culture. When fundamentally I notice a few things. One is the ability for, for the company and for its employees to work across functions with minimal friction. There’s really nothing standing in the way of saying this is a particular engineer or product manager or an analyst that I’d like to talk to.

Neil Hoyne (00:13:52):

There’s no bureaucracy that says you can’t reach out and to them and work with them. You don’t  have to go through specific processes and or go through individual teams or get manager approval. It just leads to that sense of collaboration where people can explore their questions more equally. And the culture is conditioned in the way that if you receive these types of requests you’re open to entertaining them because you can see all the wonderful things, serendipitous things, and come out of these collaborations. So every day it’s not uncommon that I’ll hear from five or six people from teams I’ve never worked with in different parts around the world. Just because they’re curious about something, curious about my work, trying to figure out who in the company is working on a problem. And when you have this happening at scale, it’s remarkable because people feel embodied to really just say, what can I do?

Neil Hoyne (00:14:37):

Who can I work with? And that goes up almost to the highest level of the organization where there’s VPs, SVPs, even C levels that you can send an email to. And you’re likely going to get some type of reply. I’ve I’ve heard stories about people. I’m not gonna mention names because otherwise I worry they’re gonna get a bombarded by emails, but there are even some executives where if I were to email them today, even though we’ve never worked together and they have arguably better things, some bigger things to work on than me, it’s still likely that they’re going to give me a thoughtful reply to my question, connect me with the resources that are necessary and allow me to continue doing my work. So that’s the first thing is I’d say the, the lack of friction across individual teams to work and to collaborate has just been wonderful.

Neil Hoyne (00:15:20):

The second I’d say is just the way that Google has almost incentivized that type of behavior. And so accelerating it, they have internal ways of recognizing employees and Google language, they and pure bonuses where effectively for somebody that goes above and beyond their function I have the ability to give them a small cash bonus. So it’s just under $200, but what’s interesting about it is that I can give this out. The only approval that’s necessary is the recipients manager. And there’s really no reason not to approve it. It doesn’t come out of a anyone’s budget. So there’s not a concern to say, I’m depleting my budget of, of bonus money I wanna give out. And it not only for the recipient, not only do they get that small monetary award, but it also helps when it goes in their performance review. And so now you have something just beyond the job that, that helps people get to you say, Hey, this is great to collaborate because I get a little bit of recognition for my work doing so.

Amanda Setili  (00:16:14):

So if their manager keeps on approving these, these pure bonuses and the person isn’t getting their core job done, I mean, that’s a way to kind of put a governor on the system in a way, isn’t it? Yeah.

Neil Hoyne (00:16:29):

I mean, certainly a manager can look at it and be like, Hey, so you, you wanna above and beyond and with this team, but you didn’t get your core job done. And certainly there, there could be a coaching element in my experiencing managing teams. It doesn’t happen often enough to where you would think it’s a distraction. I’ve seen on average, somebody might receive one or two of these a quarter. Oh, okay. If somebody was receiving six or <laugh> a week, I’d be like, wow, you’re, you’re working across a lot of teams. And that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem as much as it would be an opportunity to say, it seems like you’re doing a lot of great work for people outside your core role. What’s the commonality on that and how do we build something that scales around it? But absent that, how else do you get that visibility? You know, Hey, you’re working with teams outside your core function. It’s like, do we talk about this every week? This is kind of a way to make you kind of manage that process a bit. Right.

Amanda Setili  (00:17:23):

That’s really, really interesting. So you’ve got hundreds of different things happening. You’ve got over a hundred thousand employees. How does it all, I mean, how people, how do managers set priorities? How does it get rolled up? Because this is a problem that I’m sure you’ve seen your, your customers struggle with is too much stuff on the plate, too much stuff going on, too many people asking me for help. How does Google manage that?

Neil Hoyne (00:17:54):

Now the, the system that we use, we borrowed from, from Intel called OKRs, if you haven’t come across it objectives and key results, the basic process behind it is that every quarter teams and individual sets, specific goals that they want to accomplish, and those goals are not only the objective part of it, the O but also how they’re going to measure that success. So it’s not enough to say I’m going to launch this product. You have to say, I’m going to launch this product. How many users are we going to reach? Or how much money are we going to generate, or what’s going to happen? Let’s say our net promoter score our customer satisfaction scores. And the, those are then rolled up to the organizational level and to a larger team level. And, and that’s kind of how you manage the processes, but a few things stand out.

Neil Hoyne (00:18:39):

One is when we score these particular items at the end of a quarter, the goal isn’t to have a hundred percent if you have a hundred percent, then the interpretation is that the manager was kind of was kind of soft. They achieved everything they wanted. Conversely, if somebody got a zero, it’d be like, well, you set goals that were a little bit too hard. So the target has always been somewhere around 70%, which means that you’re gonna have some things that you set forward that we expect you not to accomplish. And what that’s really doing on the first part is it’s systematizing risk. It’s saying, we, we expect you to fail on some projects and that’s okay. Almost one 30 of your projects will not work out the way you plan. And that way, when you’re building it, if you need a hundred percent of your things to work out, then, then you’re gonna set soft, achievable goals.

Neil Hoyne (00:19:26):

If you set. So where you say, look, you expect a 30 of your projects to fail. Then the, and that becomes a little bit easier. So that’s the first step is really just how we’re setting those objectives. The second one, which I find to be particularly important is that they’re coming from the individual Googlers, the individual contributors first, not the manager. So I’m not going to my teams and saying, this is what you’re going to do. These are going to be your OKRs. I’m going to ’em and saying, I want you to set them for me. Tell me what you’re interested in pursuing where you think the greatest opportunities are, where you think we’re going to have to take risks. And then my role as a manager is to make sure they align with what I see happening at the larger organization level, but that allows you to get the input from the frontline people as to what they think is important instead of pushing down your priorities on them.

Neil Hoyne (00:20:12):

And so if they’re seeing friction in a particular area, something you may not observe and they’re willing to tackle it and they know how to measure it, and they know what they can achieve in a quarter, then that allows you to really look at that opportunity. And to have that discussion to say, you think this is a priority. Why is it, what type of progress can we make? And then how do I calibrate it just to what we’re trying to do as a larger organization. And just that conversation alone is more productive than what I’ve seen in some organizations where it’s, you know, the, the CEO points in a certain direction. And then everyone just runs in that direction without thinking about other priorities that could be missed on the front lines.

Amanda Setili  (00:20:49):

Right? So it sounds like it’s a very bottom up process as opposed to top down, but there must be guidance coming from the top about what is most important. So how does that work? How does the top down communication, if any happen?

Neil Hoyne (00:21:05):

Well that that’s, that’s the day T dance across any team. So as, as a manager, you’ll see what the organizational priorities are. And you’ll certainly wanna say, how does our team fit into those organizational priorities? That challenge has to go to the people on your team to say, we’ve been tasked with doing X. How can we meet that? But usually what you see on the fringes are things. And, and this is where the OKR process at least has been helpful for me is that you allow people to surface things to say, we wanna go in this direction. Now, if I only look at that from manager side, I can say, well, we wanna launch this product, but because the, the individual people on the team have some autonomy to recommend their own goals. They could say, look, we’re heading this direction with this product, but we really have these two or three other areas that are going to support that launch that we need to develop. And those may be things that I’m not directly aware about that I haven’t seen, but they’re saying this will be necessary to support our launch. And then they have the room to explore it within the context of the system.

Amanda Setili  (00:22:04):

And often I would think there’s somebody else who needs to take care of those things. So you need to reach out to marketing to get the product description just developed, or you need to reach out to legal to make sure you’re doing something or whatever. How do those kind of requests across the functions get handled? You mentioned the, the bill, the no friction idea, but there’s also some just stuff that got, that’s gotta get done.

Neil Hoyne (00:22:27):

Oh, absolutely. And, and I kind say I’m like the, the easiest way to explain it to any team. And, and I, I recommend from people doing this in an organization is I say, look, it’s easier for me to go to someone and say, look, 10 or 15% of your role, maybe boring process oriented, bureaucratic stuff that has nothing to do with your career. And that’s just the cost to doing business. That’s, that’s part of it. And I’m sorry as a leader, but at least I’m acknowledging that this is happening as opposed to just kind of writing it off, like, yeah, just go do it. But the other part of it as well is that in order to set a successful goal, whether you call it an OKR or something else, if I’m looking there at what I can accomplish, you learn fairly quickly that it’s rare that you’re going to be able to do anything on your own.

Neil Hoyne (00:23:10):

You require that team. Nobody has the ability to launch a product, even on their own, or to get in a, we may do a great analysis, but we know that the relationship with the company is going to touch three or four different teams. And so generally the longer people go in, and this is where it’s tying back to that collaborative organization is you realize the other people you need on your team, the other, you need to drive these objectives. And what you end up seeing at the employee level is that people start reaching out to say, look, I think this would be a great OKR of mine. I’d like to get it done, but I know I’m going to need marketing. And I know I’m going to need PR support. And I know we’re all operating on the same system that they have their OKRs.

Neil Hoyne (00:23:49):

And so oftentimes what you do is you reach out to these teams and you’ll say, Hey, so what, what are you thinking about for, for Q1 of 2022? What are those goals that you’re setting? And you can start to see areas to say, Hey, here’s areas where we could be aligned and we could collaborate together. You set this goal, we’ve set this goal. It seems to work with your organiz, let’s get it done. Or in cases you may find that that alignment is completely off. And then you can just say, well, who, who would you recommend? Who should I collaborate in the organization that can help make that happen?

Amanda Setili  (00:24:16):

You know, it just dawned on me that one of the biggest assets that you have is that you’re very, very profitable <laugh>. And so what I see with my clients is, is, you know, that people are getting multiple asks, especially people like legal and marketing that are trying to, you know, juggle many balls and satisfy many different groups and they just get overwhelmed and they just don’t have any more capacity. And they just say, sorry, you’re just not a priority this quarter, but I would think that at Google, because you’re very profit and you’re growing very fast, there is more flexibility to just say, we’ve gotta expand the legal team. I mean, we gotta add some people. And so the capacity is more aligned with the aspiration. Is that, do you think that’s right.

Neil Hoyne (00:25:02):

Certainly they’re, they’re planning ahead. And, and they’re saying, you know, obviously what do we need to do you to, to hit a certain growth rate? What, who do we need to hire? How big do the teams need to be? I think the two areas that were baked into Google’s culture, which have served the company phenomenally well over the years one is just that perpetual focus on scaling the business. So looking at it, not necessarily to say, well, we are understaffed in this area, let’s hire one more person. And, but to take a step back and say, why did, why did we end up becoming understaffed? Is this happening across other teams? Do we need to just hire one person or what’s really the problem we’re trying to solve over the next two or three years? What we need to scale this entire function are good.

Neil Hoyne (00:25:42):

Is staffing always the proper requirement. You see some companies that are like, wow, we’re, we’re way behind here. Just add more people. Or Google is a company will say, Hey, do we need to add people? Or can we build processes to make things more efficient for the people that we have? And those types of questions that they ask always had that long term focus to say, adding people is the easy answer to any problem for a company because it’s instant scale, right? We’re just throwing more people onto the team. Or they’ve always been, I’ve seen awareness to say, how do we build the right structure, the right processes to encourage the people that we have to be able to do as much as they possibly can. The second part of it, which has served as, as equally, well as a first is I’ve always seen discussions.

Neil Hoyne (00:26:25):

We’re adding headcount is actually a hard discussion, which means there’s internal, just internal sentiment to say, if you just wanna add more people to the problem, is that the right solution, or when we look at our current teams, are, is there things we could do differently or things we could send over to different teams. And again, going back to that software, that scaling question, and again, conditioning people, if you know, a conversation is going to be hard, right? If you know, Hey, I’ve asked ’em for people, and I know what they’re gonna say, then you start looking at your own internal capabilities first, and you know, that simply adding people on almost because it becomes an option of last resort. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. And I think over time, when you look at that over decades, that serves a company well, because you look at individual functions and they’ve really gone through that exercise to say, how much can we do with the people that we have? What can we do to enable them to make decision making, to make processes easier than simply saying every time work goes up, our team just gets bigger. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>

Amanda Setili  (00:27:22):

Yeah. Would imagine that you’re probably very, very good at using things like robotic process automation, so good that you probably don’t even think it is a thing. You just do it automatically, but also that you are probably very good about just saying, what am I doing here? That’s really not adding that much value. How could I just exactly, you know, ship it instead of having it be perfect.

Neil Hoyne (00:27:43):

You know, they, they have actually a, a process like this. It’s an annual exercise in the company where everybody in the company is free to submit and vote on what they consider to be the largest bureaucratic organizational blockers in the company. And then that process is traditionally led up at the C-levels to say, this is what you surfaced as a company. This is, what’s slowing you down from your work and we’re gonna go fix it. And we’re gonna report back to you, the progress that we’re making. And we’re gonna repeat this exercise as many times as necessary. And you’re surprised when you get other departments and other teams together, be like, wow, this is a really hard process for me. And you see other people in other organizations saying, Hey, we’re struggling with at this too. And then you get the, you get the C level saying, Hey, we didn’t know this was a problem because this isn’t something we see in our work, like one of, one of the classic ones.

Neil Hoyne (00:28:34):

And it kind of sounds trivial was there was a time at Google. It was impossible to book a conference room. You just couldn’t do it. I came in one time during, right after during the Christmas holiday, it was like December 27th, the higher office was empty and still every conference room was booked. And it was just because the processes incentivize people, you wanna book that space in advance because you may not have it. And it created a cycle where it became a, a precious commodity <laugh> that everyone was so worried about. They’re like, if you don’t, if you don’t book a conference room out months in advance, then you may not have it. So let’s do that. And then the entire company did it. And it wasn’t until everybody raised their hand and said, this is something that needs to be fixed. You probably didn’t know about it, but it’s costing us hours, thousands of hours, every time everybody has to do it. And you simply see how those little processes come in to really help the company become more effective. How did

Amanda Setili  (00:29:23):

They fix it?

Neil Hoyne (00:29:24):

They had they went with software, which was, they just upgraded Google calendar to then they changed a variety of ways that how we book. But one of the, the more prevalent ones is that a system that instead of having to go conference room by conference room manually, which was the process at the time. Oh, to now saying you click a button and it looks at all the attendees, what offices they’re in, how many total attendees and just automatically books, the space

Amanda Setili  (00:29:48):

That makes tons of sense. If the meeting cancel what you

Neil Hoyne (00:29:50):

Think about it. Yeah. If the meeting’s canceled, it undoes all that work. Now that sounds intuitive. Why wouldn’t it work that way at the time you literally had to go through every building you had to be like, well, this is the building I’m at. These are the buildings next to me that I can walk to in three or four minutes, let’s go conference room by conference room to see what’s available. And what you ended up doing was if you found one, like I, Hey, I’m, it’s just me in the meeting, but here’s the closest building I can find. Yeah, it’s a 30 person conference room, but I need space. And so then you’re sitting in this big cavernous room while other people are running around and be like, where do we hold our team meeting? But that was a process at the time. Have you

Amanda Setili  (00:30:24):

Sold or given that solution to customers that use Google

Neil Hoyne (00:30:29):

Calendar? That’s, that’s exactly the, the process is that if something’s useful for us, it certainly is gonna be useful for others. So you actually see these products and these tools, Google workspace is kind of the corporate version of, of calendar. It’s the same to who will we use internally? And so a lot of the developments we have there, I imagine they go through testing. We’re like, I’m sure other people need this stuff. And so that’s how it filters out so that what we do internally can help guide and advise how we can make other companies more effective.

Amanda Setili  (00:30:57):

Fantastic. What leadership skills do you think are most valued? And what do you think, what leadership skills do you think might be missing?

Neil Hoyne (00:31:08):

I I’d say the most, the most powerful one still today is developing the people on your team. Some of the most effective leaders that I’ve worked under, take the position to say we’re hiring some of the smartest people in industry. Our goal really should be to develop them to their fullest potential like the goal isn’t for a manager to just, you know, simply point and similar to OKRs and say, everybody go in this direction as much as it is to kind of guide them to say, where are their strengths that we can play to so that we can get, you know, them involved, them interested and invested in their work and also line them to what they’re really good at. Now areas that I think the company has us to work on. I I’d say this is just something about COVID that companies everywhere are still figuring out, which is how do you build effective teams when everybody’s working from home mm-hmm <affirmative> and hopefully this will be shortlived, although I’ve made those predictions before, I think I said, you know, somewhere last summer, I was like, vaccines are out.

Neil Hoyne (00:32:00):

So COVID things will be back to normal by September. And I know Google said they were coming back to office in September, and then it was October. Then it was January. And now it’s, you know, maybe March or April, but I, I think overall, when you have a culture that’s strongly reinforced by that physical location, getting people together, having those almost water cooler, micro kitchen conversations. And now you have something that’s very strict where you have to book time on calendar and you have to, you know, stare into a little camera and you can’t connect. How do you ensure that you’re still maintaining some of that, you know, that, that, that spontaneous work and that collaboration, when those opportunities themselves don’t exist and, and broadly speaking, I’m not sure any leader in any organization has a guidebook for doing it. So I think it’s a lot of curiosity to say, how do these cultures adapt to what may effectively become a permanent change to, to our working culture?

Amanda Setili  (00:32:53):

I think it’s certainly gonna become at least partially permanent. I mean, many, many people will, will be remote fully and everybody will be more remote than they used to be. And that’s here to stay

Neil Hoyne (00:33:06):

Yeah. Possible. Yes.

Amanda Setili  (00:33:07):

Which just means that Google can develop even more great products for people to collaborate. So that’s,

Neil Hoyne (00:33:14):

That’s, I’m hoping you’re in a good space. <Laugh> I, I, I saw one at our Google IO, which is like, they were doing like, I I’m gonna, I’m gonna completely botch how they choose to represent it, but it was like these 3d holograms of people and how just seeing people in front of you with depth, with texture versus on a flat screen, changes a level of engagement with them. And I think this space has a lot of room for innovation. I mean, if you’ve looked at just in the past five years with you see in products, it’s kinda like the same thing. We’re gonna send the image over the best we can. And it looks like collectively companies are figuring out that this part will be part of work culture and they’re dedicating resources to innovating in it. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>

Amanda Setili  (00:33:52):

Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. So you mentioned that the, an important leadership skills is to align people to what they’re good at. And, you know, you employ zillions of engineers. My career started in engineering and we’re taught as engineers to be highly logical. And we’re not really taught that many EQ skills. We don’t really have that much emotional intelligence typically. How does Google trends form these technologists type of folks to be in great managers?

Neil Hoyne (00:34:27):

I, I think it just has to deal with the collaboration for the engineers that I’ve worked with and they, they are highly logical. I mean, when we go back to some of those, those diagrams about how people behave, that may not be how the larger world works, but that is very much how they will make decisions and that’s, and that it’s fine. But what I also find with these particular engineers is that in those cases, simply having more data and exposure to different circumstances allows ’em to adjust their perspective. And so when we look at a lot of the cross-functional activities that happens in Google, there was a time where we were working with product teams were just every couple of months we’d come together. And we were just candidly least share what we were seeing from the field. And the engineers that were working with were very intent.

Neil Hoyne (00:35:06):

And it was funny to see at times where, you know, there was a, a case in particular that stands out where one of the sales teams I was with just kind of mentioned, they’re like, yeah. So our, our, our customers, you know, they, they just, you know, they spent all their money for December. They spent it by the second week of December, and then that was it. And one of the engineers just raise their hand. They’re like, what, what do you mean? A customer spent money and they stopped. And so they, they provide a little more detail like, oh, well, a customer had a budget. This was as much as they could spend on this product for the quarter. And so they turned it off and the customer had to do that, even if they were still making money, which just blews the engineer’s mind.

Neil Hoyne (00:35:41):

They’re like, wait a minute. So they’re making money off our product. We’re helping their business grow and they’re turning it off. That seems like the most irrational thing. Why would it happen? Well, as it turns out, even though it’s irrational in that decision, in the larger scope of the organization, the CFO is not going to, if anybody, a blank check, you can’t manage a business that way. So they do the best they can to assign budgets. And oddly enough, that was never considered in the product design. The product design was we’ll help. You make as much money as you can. And you flip it on when it makes you money and you turn it off when it stops making you money. Not that you would turn it off based on an arbitrary constraint within your organization. And this actually led to a really great conversation because for the previous couple months they were building without understanding of the condition that was guiding the customer behavior.

Amanda Setili  (00:36:27):

So were they able to fix that

Neil Hoyne (00:36:30):

Product? Yeah. How did they do that? Not only did they reinvent the flow, but they changed some of the assumptions that they had. So they started actually asking customer, is this a constraint of your business? And if it’s a constraint to your business, then we can deliver the product in a, in a different way. So for instance, if we’re assuming that our timeline to deliver is indefinite then we will do as much as we can with each and every day to maximize growth. But on the other hand, if you’re looking at a longer horizon and saying you have finite resources, our, every of this value may be a little bit different. So we may say, look, we can make more on day five than we can on day one. And if you have a finite budget, we’re gonna spend more time and resources on day five.

Neil Hoyne (00:37:10):

But what it really did at the core of the product was it said, this is what customers are doing. This is what customers need. This is what we’re going to build towards. But engineers don’t often interact in the front lines of, of the organization in that capacity. So there would be no other way for them to get that insight until they just had those conversations with sales people, people that I can tell you have three or four other layers. So otherwise they would not interact with, they would not get that insight, but just because a culture allows ’em to do it, they can then add it to say this as well as I’m sure countless other insights is just how the market’s behaving. And so we need to build to those conditions.

Amanda Setili  (00:37:46):

So what is the mechanism for customer insights and observations to get from the Salesforce and the customer back to the engineer? Does it happen in a regular and systematic way, or was it happenstance that they, to have that conversation that led to a fantastic insight,

Neil Hoyne (00:38:05):

A combination of both a as a large company, there are the formalized processes. So we will routinely go to customers and we have what we call customer Geist surveys, where we ask them how they’re feeling, what they’re doing, large analyses, where those results are aggregated at the very highest level and surface out to say how we’re gonna take action to improve those processes. As I, as I refer to are necessary for any large company to function. But on the other hand, because Google has a collaborative environment, you say, look, our large, survey’s gonna be run once a year. All right. That’s, that’s 12 months in between insight. And what’s happening on the field. When you do a large survey, you have a lot of data and you try to standard or standardize around a set of questions that you can measure progress year over year.

Neil Hoyne (00:38:47):

Those are much different objectives than what you may get on an individual conversation with a collection of advertisers over lunch mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so the collaborative element of the company allows it to say, Hey, here’s a sales team. That’s running into this problem where they won’t necessarily hesitate to then reach out directly to the engineers, building the product and say, Hey, I just, I just happened to learn this. I thought you’d be interested in this. And, and the collaboration works both ways. Sometimes we have engineers, I’ll just reach out to sales teams to say, Hey, I’m, I’m writing code for this each, or what, what do you think they’re gonna do? And can I get in touch with them? Can I get some data from the field themselves? And so you look at that nice balance of you need to build processes in order for any company to scale, to any reasonable size, you need to have those processes, those tools, and those systems in place, but you also need to make sure that people feel empowered to go around them for the, of innovation to say, we know that the processes can’t support a hundred percent.

Neil Hoyne (00:39:40):

So we’re going to give you that kind of that reign to collaborate, where it makes sense in hopes that you feed those insights back up so we can figure out how to scale it later on.

Amanda Setili  (00:39:50):

And there must be you know, interim releases of minimal viable product all the way up to almost done product that enable the engineers to just watch what customers are actually doing, looking at the data, right? Mm-Hmm

Neil Hoyne (00:40:05):

<Affirmative> absolutely. And in fact, most of the products that before they go out, there’s an internal process where Googlers will use them. And, and I’ve heard from some of the engineers that Googlers will be the most critical voices on product, especially I’ve seen some of the engineers like engineers will critique things that normal mass market users won’t do, but they try to capture as much feedback as possible before it goes out into the market. And, and even then we do see some products that are sent out, which is simply to say, we won’t know until we get it in the hands of customers. And we’re just honest with customers to say, we’re still exploring this. We’re still testing this. Can we get your feedback on it? Because we really wanna see did the logical rational assumptions we make early on really play out in terms of the development of the product.

Amanda Setili  (00:40:47):

Well, and I think the other thing you do well is you let customers opt into the experiments. So I love to go into the Gmail labs for instance, and just try something that I know it’s not gonna be fully baked. I other, maybe snags with it, but I’m getting to use something I need. So it’s all good. That’s,

Neil Hoyne (00:41:05):

That’s, that’s the, the culture of experimentation is, is just one that’s been necessary. It’s for Google it’s for tech companies. It’s for companies anywhere it’s to say, how do you get these new ideas out? What is a balance between an idea and a full exit Qian in terms of risk and reward, you know, it can certainly take any product, any feature, anything in Gmail labs and build it out a hundred percent into a full product. But is that necessarily the best course? Or do you wanna find a way to say, let’s get this in front, let’s collect this data. And in, in the labs case, let’s do it without interrupting someone’s workflow. So let’s not change the entire product, but let’s give them the idea to say, Hey, if this is a pain point for you and you wanna see what we’re working on, here’s a way where you can self select and opt into that group. So that way we can capture some of that data to say, is this really solving the problem? Like we thought it would mm-hmm <affirmative>

Amanda Setili  (00:41:54):

You mentioned the OKRs. Is there a pro what is the process for accountability? Do you have performance reviews every quarter? Do you have continuous feedback? What, how does accountability work at Google?

Neil Hoyne (00:42:08):

So OKRs are generally are reviewed on a quarterly basis and the key to the is transparency. So if you start all the way at the top of the organization, all the way down to the VPs and the directors, they are generally fairly transparent. They don’t share specific revenue numbers. So it’s not to say we wanted to grow by, you know, 50 million and we hit 52 million, but it’s to say, we set revenue targets. This is how we did on our OKRs. And this is a strange thing for companies is to actually have the leadership stand up and say, these are the goals we set, and now we have to take accountability for how we actually did. And then when you see that almost cascade down into the individual teams, then you start to see, well, okay, these are the goals. Even that my, my leader set and they’re admitting and raising their hand to say, look, I took a risk on these.

Neil Hoyne (00:42:55):

Remember we say that we, we don’t wanna hit all of our goals. Here’s the ones that we fell short on. But what’s interesting about the process is they also talk about what they learned. So it’s one thing to fail, but it’s another thing to fail without having an understanding or explanation is to why, what did you learn about that failure that can help either reduce its risk going forward, or will change the way that you see the world. And then when you get down to the individual level, we go through performance reviews every six months where those OKRs are, are very much listed to say, these are the OKRs, the goals that you set, how did those projects turn out and why? And then that goes to a committee process, which determines, you know, promotions overall scoring. But it’s all still tied to those same accomplishments.

Amanda Setili  (00:43:35):

<Affirmative> so there’s partly a yes, no. Did you achieve it? But since you only set a 70% goal, anyway, there’s a lot of forgiveness and a lot of knowledge that people are going to be experimenting, that they’re gonna fail a certain amount. And as long as you learn from it, that’s all good. Yes. I wish all companies could be like that. <Laugh>

Neil Hoyne (00:43:55):

It’s every, every company has its own has its own system. Yeah. You know, you see it, it’s like there’s, I work with some consultancies where they, they have their system in place that they’ve used for decades. And I think that’s fine, as long as they think about the larger implications for the system. So if you encourage this type of behavior, so there are some organizations where you have to get, you know, five outta five for everything you’re doing. Okay, that’s fine if you want, if that’s your system, but are you considering how this may negatively impact the risk profile of the people at your organization? Now, innovative companies like tech benefit from that because they need to take risks. The future’s uncertain. If you are working a large organization, say legal or something, regulatory, do you really want people failing on 30% of their projects? That may be a different question.

Amanda Setili  (00:44:42):

Well, you work with a lot of external parties. You work closely with a lot of customers and those customers are in a different world than you are. They’re off than being held to the five outta five standard. They’re all often being held to very you know, strict requirements in terms of how much money they can spend and how much revenue they need to bring in. Are you able to have some of the Google mentality rub off on them or do you adapt to their culture? And what have you seen in terms of companies being able to progress and become more innovative even while, while maybe operating in an industry? That’s kind of tough.

Neil Hoyne (00:45:23):

I I’d say my preference is always to fit an idea, a system, a transformation, a metric to a company’s culture, not trying to fit a company’s culture the other way around, which means that we don’t want to, you don’t wanna turn a company into Google. That company has been successful and has built itself over its culture, its processes, its tools. What you try to listen for are where are the areas where they’re trying to improve and where are there insights, experiences that we have what’s data that we’ve captured that can help ensure the success of that transformation that they’re trying to make. And so in that case, there’s nothing. So dogmatic to say, well, if you’re gonna make this transformation, you need to use OKRs or you need to use net promoter score or lifetime value or any particular metric. It’s really to say, if you, your company’s going this direction, these are the different techniques and levers you pull on.

Neil Hoyne (00:46:14):

These have been our experiences in that area. This is how we think it adjusts to your culture. And then almost bringing that in to say, how do you make it your own? So even when we see companies who are, and they come in, they ask about our culture and they ask about how we test and how we, how we hire. I I’ve never seen any company. Take it one to one and be successful to say, we’re now going to ask interview questions like Google. You don’t do that. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> I I’ve been more intrigued by how companies say, all right, this is a Google process. This is a process we have. How can we use things like Google to make our processes better? And how can we iterate on it? So they’re almost taking it for inspiration to challenge their own assumptions just as our engineers.

Neil Hoyne (00:46:53):

And I think that’s a better our way forward. I’m always worried when people come in and say, Hey, we wanna, I had a one company. I remember one time. I was like, well, we wanna ask interview questions, just like you do. I’m like, you gotta be careful about that because mm-hmm, <affirmative> the, the things to always keep in mind with these is that the tactics that we readily observe from the outside, the interview questions, the free food using OKRs are uniquely different than the systems that make them successful. And the systems are always a lot harder to understand. And so companies need to be mindful of that to say, it’s not simply, this is something Google does. So we’re gonna do it. It’s to say, it’s either you have to study the system that’s in place that makes all of it work. Or you have to say this is an individual tactic insight that can inform your larger system and possibly make it stronger. And that ladder approach is generally a lot less risky and a lot easier to do.

Amanda Setili  (00:47:42):

Do you happen to have a consulting group that goes into C into clients and says, if you wanna adopt parts of our system, parts of our culture will help you

Neil Hoyne (00:47:53):

J I I’m for what I do on data and measurement, I work alongside people that do exactly that there are a lot of companies that come to us and say, Google, you’re successful with data. What can we learn from you? Those are always the best questions. How can we collaborate? What kind of insights and challenges can you bring to the table? And we have people that do exactly that. And there are a lot of questions. There are a lot of curiosities. And I think as a company, it’s figuring out how do we do that effectively? And how do we scale it? One book that I still love, which is, is a little bit idealistic, but it’s still a great read. It’s just a book called how Google works.

Amanda Setili  (00:48:26):

I’ve read that.

Neil Hoyne (00:48:28):

It’s, it’s a fantastic book. It, it just gives you kind of the layout to say, look, this is a language. These are the processes. These are the objectives we built. And because that book is several years old at this point, there’s also kind of that history of its evolution, where some companies come in and say, look, Eric Schmidt, when he was your CEO. And chairman said, this is how he wants to do hiring. Is this still what Google does today? And the answer is, well, no, we’ve changed. And there was that discussion saying, well, what did you learn along the way? Or why did you change it? Or what did you find was effective or not? And so it’s a kind of that ongoing story that again, they witness and they say, well, these are learnings that we could possibly apply to our, our culture, or maybe we’re a couple years ahead or behind. And it just adds to a really good conversation. So the answer is, yes, we love to have those. It’s just figuring out how we make them meaningful, given that we can’t fully understand any company’s culture as well as they can.

Amanda Setili  (00:49:18):

Right. Right. Yeah. I think it’s so valuable to look at another company that’s totally different than yourself and say, here’s five things that they do differently than us. What can we learn from what they’re doing that we could apply here and we’re gonna apply it in a totally different way, but just look outside yourself because if you’re always just looking internally and saying, this is broken, how are we gonna fix it? It’s a little bit different exactly different out outcome.


Thank you so much for being with us. Neil, it’s been a lot of fun talking with you and I hope that we’ll do this again in the future. And I hope that everyone will go to converted, buy this book and follow Neil on LinkedIn because I’ve looked through a lot of his posts and he’s always got something weird, unexpected and useful on his

Neil Hoyne (01:05:55):

Feed. Amanda, thank you so much for having me.

Amanda Setili  (01:05:58):

All right. Thanks. Bye. Bye.

Connect with Amanda Setili:

Connect with Neil:




We all want to do work we love, and as leaders, entrepreneurs and employees, wouldn’t it be great to create workplaces where work feels like play? Where people are tuned in to changes going on in the world around them? Where they’re constantly learning, spotting new opportunities, and taking action to go after them? These traits are essential to an organization’s agility and success. In the Fearless Growth podcast, Amanda Setili and her guests explore the mindsets and choices that lead individuals, leaders and their organizations to outstanding performance.

Are You Ready to Grow Fearlessly? Sign up for our newsletter and receive a free booklet to get started.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Start typing and press Enter to search